Wanderers and Wellington share a point

Western Sydney Wanderers and Wellington Phoenix have taken a point apiece from their 2023/24 Isuzu UTE A-League season opener in a 0-0 draw at CommBank Stadium.

The fixture was highlighted by a series of impressive saves by Phoenix keeper Alex Paulsen, who staved off competition from new Wellington signing Jack Duncan in the off-season to start in between the sticks in Round 1 and the 21-year-old did not disappoint new Phoenix head coach Giancarlo Italiano in just his fourth A-Leagues start, with a series of eye-catching saves preserving his clean sheet and a point for the travelling side.

The first half featured a gripping battle between Paulsen and lively Wanderers forward Nicolas Milanovic, who were both heavily involved in the early action. 

The two players faced off in the seventh minute when Milanovic sent a strike on the turn toward the top-right corner of Paulsen’s goal, only for the 21-year-old to leap across and poke the ball around the post for a corner. 

Paulsen was called into another diving save just beyond the half-hour mark when Milanovic picked out Marcus Antonsson in the six-yard box with a well-weighted cross; Antonsson directed his header down toward the bottom corner but Paulsen got a strong right hand to the ball, falling over his own line but making sure the ball didn’t follow him into the back of the net.

Paulsen’s two big saves were complimented by a contribution down the other end by Wanderers gloveman Lawrence Thomas to ensure the game remained goalless to the break. Nicholas Pennington made a late run from midfield to latch onto a cross from out wide, and his header was on target – but the quick-thinking Thomas sprawled backward to tip the ball over the bar. 

After the break Paulsen continued to excel, with Jack Clisby’s curling attempt from outside the box giving the Phoenix keeper a test he was eager to pass.

Wanderers star Brandon Borrello played from the start despite returning from London and international duty with the Socceroos on Thursday night. The quick turnaround after friendlies against England and New Zealand meant Borrello could only manage an hour in the Wanderers’ season opener before being replaced by Zac Sapsford.

The hosts had their best chance of the second half with just 10 minutes to play when Jorrit Hendrix played a ball from midfield to the back post where Clisby had made a well-timed run; caught between a header on goal and back across the box, Clisby’s first-time contact sent the ball flashing across the face of goal, with not a Wanderer in sight to put a final touch on the well-worked move.

There would be no late chances for either side to snatch all three points, with those first-half saves from Paulsen and Thomas proving the key moments in a game where neither side found the cutting edge to break through.